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Soylent, a food startup with a cult following, is using a controversial ingredient — and it isn't about to stop

Erin Brodwin
Soylent Rob Rhinehart
Soylent Rob Rhinehart

(A bag of Soylent.Josh Edelson / Getty Images)

Soylent, Silicon Valley's favorite meal-replacement drink, is using the boogeyman of ingredients in its product.

And no, it's not people.

The startup, which has attracted a cult following with its convenient powders and ready-to-drink bottles designed to replace eating actual meals, is made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Many people seem to think genetically modified foods are dangerous. In recent years, companies have submitted more than 35,000 products to the Non-GMO Project, an organization that certifies products that don't contain genetically modified ingredients.

Sales of such GMO-free products are skyrocketing: Today, they represent roughly $16 billion in yearly sales.

But are GMOs harmful? The makers of Soylent don't think so. And guess what? Scientists agree.

As the company's founders write in a report released this week, "GMOs currently on the market provide ample cases of tangible benefit with relatively negligible risk."

Organizations like the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the European Commission have publicly proclaimed GMO foods to be safe to eat. A large 2013 study on GMOs found no "significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops."

Other experts cite the fact that practically all the food we eat today has been genetically modified in some way; everything from corn to watermelons have been selectively bred for thousands of years to give us the traits we find desirable, like large amounts of sweet, edible flesh or small seeds.

soylent bottles
soylent bottles

(Bottles of ready-to-drink Soylent in a fridge stacked with other genetically modified foods.Melia Robinson/Tech Insider)
And what about the other products that we use every day that wouldn't exist without genetically modified ingredients?

All insulin, the medication that people with diabetes depend on to regulate their blood sugar, is made with genetically modified ingredients. The cotton used to make the T-shirt you're wearing was most likely genetically modified.

As Harvard geneticist George Church told Business Insider recently, the hypocrisy of our selective embrace of certain genetically modified products is astounding.

"I hope people wake up one day and realize, 'Hey almost everything is GM — it's in the air, on our bodies, in our medicine — maybe we can get over the GM foods controversy," Church said.

soylent gmo
soylent gmo

The makers of Soylent seem to have hope.

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